Introductory story about a baby who was given to a lady to hold for only five minutes by a mother who needed to chase after a toddler but felt awfully embarrassed because she spoiled the womans Sunday clothes by spewing on her. It changed the womans life to feel she was still needed, even in this small way.
One of the things recurrent in Marks gospel is that the disciples dont get it. They follow Jesus, they hear him preach, they see him act, but they simply dont get what Jesus is on about, what his ministry is and where his journey is leading him. Just before the passage we read this morning Jesus has tried to talk to his disciples about the suffering he will be facing once theyll get to Jerusalem. Moments later they are arguing amongst each other who will have pride of place in his Kingdom. While Jesus is looking for support from his friends and trying to share his concerns and anxiety about what he can see coming, the only thing they are interested in is a good old power struggle!
Twice Jesus puts a child in front of them and takes the faith of children as an example to be followed:
If you want to get what I am on about, try their mindset!
This is not the first time children have been put forward as an example in scripture. We read about 8 year old king Josiah who, after a host of bad predecessors does not turn left or right but stays on the straight and narrow. Under his leadership the temple is restored and the law rediscovered. Under his leadership the people of God make a U-turn towards justice and peace and know once more what it is like to live in a society driven by different values than greed, power and self indulgence.
There is Samuel, the prophet, who as a young boy ends up in a temple where the adults have forgotten how to listen for Gods voice and worship has fallen into disrepair. Not the priests, nor any of the other adults around hear the voice of God call, but Samuel does to the surprise and horror of the priest in charge, Eli.
And we often forget Jesus himself was a child and young adult before he became a man. A youngster who, at the age of twelve, discovers what drives him: He wants to spend time in the temple, learn about the scriptures, share in discussions about faith, follow his passion for God. A drive so strong he completely loses himself and forgets to care about others.
These stories tell us a couple of things about how children are seen to differ from adults in scripture, or what, to put it another way, this mindset is the disciples of Jesus are told to take on:
Children in Jesus time did not have any power and had no voice. They were at the bottom of the pile where influence, authority and leadership were concerned. Nobody expected any earth shattering revelations or insights from a child, what they thought or felt was simply not regarded as something that could be relevant for the deliberations of adults.
Having said that - they were still children, as the stories mentioned before show:
They follow their heart sooner than their mind and let the drive God has created in them, take over much more easily. Their call has not been buried under different motivations and more rational considerations yet. And as a result they can still, much more easily, hear it, and respond to it. When the young Jesus feels called to religion, he can let it take over, even if that brings him into trouble with his parents. Had he been an adult he would probably have felt the drive, but ignored it to go home as he should have with a wry smile of longing.
They are still flexible enough to change course: King Josiah immediately starts implementing change, the minute the law is discovered in the newly refurbished temple. He is not yet limited by an adult sense of political weariness or caution, he is not yet spoiled by the desire to keep everything as it is, if only because it makes life easier for everyone.
They can hear things adults cant because their minds are not full of other stuff. Samuel can hear because contrary to Eli, he isnt carrying a life time of worry with him, because he doesnt have two sons who are wrecking the last remnants of what used to be a thriving temple and worship, because he isnt too tired from running around after the necessities of keeping the show on the road to be woken up by the whisperings of Gods spirit in the night.
They are open to the unexpected and often even enjoy it whereas it usually freaks out adults completely, simply because adults, through their life experience, know how fragile and vulnerable their existence is.
They have time. Plenty of time to work on things they see the need to change where adults drag a whole history behind them that can put the breaks on fast forwarding anything.
Children are anxious about other things than adults, they havent gathered as much clutter and they have less to lose and more to gain by change.
These are all generalities of course. But I think we can all see what Jesus might have meant when he told his disciples to try and adopt more of a childlike approach to the gospel and his ministry. First of all it is an invitation to let go of the power struggles they constantly get themselves into. Power, authority, the who is the leader game is of no importance whatsoever in following in his footsteps. It should be taken off the agenda because in the Kingdom of God all that kind of stuff is turned on its head and no longer to be viewed in the same way as before. Then there is the invitation to listen. To listen and to change, to be open to Gods call for you, whatever it may be, and let it determine your life rather than more adult considerations of career or money or status. And last but not least there is the invitation to trust. To trust like a child that everything will work out if you listen to Gods call and let your life be let by it rather than other things. To trust that even if suffering and death head your way God will be there at your side and will hold you in his love, safe, and strong.
It means we let go and listen. Listen to the whisperings of the Spirit in the night like Samuel. Listen to the words of Gods law as they have been handed down to us like Josiah. Listen to whatever it is God has planted deep into our souls as our primary drive in his service and let our lives be led by it, even if it means the direction our journey seems to take is less lucrative and comfortable.
It also means to expect the unexpected listening to that voice in our own hearts and minds, but also in the hearts and minds of others. It means we respect each other, whatever our age, gender or status may be, as possible vessels for divine revelation and wisdom.
Because nobody is exempt from it, not even the smallest baby.